Monday, June 26, 2006
This is the full text of General Convention Debriefing given by The Rt. Rev'd John W. Howe, Bishop of Central Florida on June 25.
General Convention Debriefing
June 25, 2006
By John W. Howe
I went to my first General Convention in 1973, and the one just past was my sixth as your Bishop. Without even a close competitor, this was the most bizarre Convention I have ever attended.
Prior to getting to Columbus it was very clear that Convention would be focused on – if not dominated by – two major decisions: The Episcopal Church’s response to the Windsor Report, and the election of a new Presiding Bishop. As it turned out, the two are inextricably related to each other.
The Windsor Report was issued in 2004, by a special Commission established by the Archbishop of Canterbury following our last General Convention, three years ago. It called upon The Episcopal Church to do three things in particular: elect and consecrate no more non-celibate gay Bishops, perform no more same-gender blessings, and offer a sincere expression of regret for “tearing the fabric” of the Anglican Communion by the decisions of 2003.
We could not have had a clearer demonstration of how deeply divided we are over these very issues.
On the one side were those who believe this is primarily a moral and theological matter: sexual intimacy is intended by God to be limited to marriage; we were wrong three years ago to confirm the election of a non-celibate gay man as a Bishop in the Church, and to tacitly approve same-gender blessings, thereby creating virtual schism in the Anglican Communion.
On the other side, this is a justice issue: homosexual men and women, gays and lesbians, have the same rights as heterosexual persons, and to deny those rights by refusing blessings, or access to any Christian ministry, is a total violation of Christ’s example and commandment to love others as he loves us.
Both sides hold their positions with incredible passion and conviction, and as the Convention unfolded, an amazing thing began to be evident. From the “conservative” side, all of the proposed Resolutions were far too weak: they didn’t begin to comply with the Windsor requests or with Biblical teaching. But from the “liberal” side the Resolutions went way too far: they demanded more sacrifice on the part of the gay community and their supporters than they could possibly give.
And so in the debate and finally in the voting, the “conservatives” and the “liberals” became more and more allied in their opposition to what was being proposed - for opposite reasons! And the folks in the middle had no idea what was happening.
We began two weeks ago tomorrow. The Presiding Bishop wanted all of the Windsor stuff to be dealt with by Sunday, a week ago, when we were to elect a new Presiding Bishop. We had hardly begun to deal with it by then.
On Tuesday of last week, with only a day and a half to go, the major Windsor Resolution was given to the House of Deputies for consideration. It expressed “regret” for “contributing to the strains on communion” by consenting to the consecration of a “bishop living openly in a same-gender union.” And it urged “nominating committees, electing conventions, Standing Committees, and bishops with jurisdiction to refrain from the nomination, election, consent to, and consecration of bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion, and be it further Resolved that this General Convention not proceed to develop or authorize Rites for the Blessing of same-sex unions at this time….”
Way too little for the “conservatives;” way too much for the “liberals.”
People on both sides argued for and against the Resolution, many of them with tears. Finally, the vote was taken. The Resolution was defeated. The incoming President of the House of Deputies moved to Reconsider. Reconsideration was denied.
The Presiding Bishop panicked. We have to have some kind of a response to Windsor. He asked the Bishops who had been part of drafting the Resolution to come up with an entirely new Resolution over night, and he called for a special Joint Session of Convention the next morning, our last day together, to consider it.
The new Resolution says this:
Resolved, that the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report’s invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further
Resolved, that this Convention call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.
Notice this makes no mention of same-sex blessings whatsoever. And with regard to Bishops, this was exactly what the Deputies had twice turned down just the day before. Under their Rules of Order they should not have even revisited it. But the Presiding Bishop threw all of his weight behind it, and virtually begged Convention to pass it.
And in the end, Convention did.
In the House of Bishops we were given just 30 minutes to debate this most important issue on the last day of Convention, after three years of thinking about it. Robert’s Rules of Order were completely violated, and several of the Bishops said they felt they had been run over by a train.
Both before and after the vote I said to the House of Bishops this was an inadequate response. And I did not vote for it. Let me be clear: I am in favor of what it says, so far as it goes. But it does not go anywhere near far enough.
Following the vote a number of the Bishops asked to make statements of “personal privilege.”
+John Chane, the Bishop of Washington, read a Statement signed by about twenty bishops, denouncing the way in which the Resolution had been pushed through both Houses, and “dissenting” from it. Later, in a Press Conference, he said that he would “defy” it.
+Bob Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh and Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network, read a Statement, signed by fourteen Bishops, “dissociating” from it. And several other Bishops expressed their disagreements with what had happened on our last morning together.
So, what appears to be the decision of General Convention is, in fact, highly questionable. It was ramroded through both Houses, and it has very ambiguous support at best. “Dissent, defy, dissociate” - General Convention in “3 D.”
I have been asked why I did not join the Bishops who “dissociated” themselves from this action. Two reasons. First, I was not at the meeting when they decided to issue this Statement. It took place during the closing Eucharist of Convention. I thought it was important to be present to hear the inaugural sermon of our Presiding Bishop Elect.
But secondly, as I said just a moment ago, I do not disagree with what we said. It is inadequate, but I agree with it so far as it goes. It just doesn’t go far enough.
I am a “Windsor Bishop” and a “Network Bishop.” We are a “Windsor Diocese” and a “Network Diocese.” I traveled to London just last month to say to the Archbishop of Canterbury, face to face, that we, and I, are committed to being totally compliant with the Windsor Report’s requests and recommendations.
I believe it is up to him to determine whether the actions of our General Convention are acceptable in terms of what the Lambeth Commission and the Primates have asked of us.
Now, let me say a word about the election of our new Presiding Bishop. +Katharine Jefferts Schori is a lovely person. She is brilliant, gifted, well-educated. She has an earned PhD in marine biology. She is fluent in Spanish. She is a pilot.
She has quite limited clergy experience. She has never been a rector. She has been the Bishop of a very small diocese for only five years. (She has about twice as many people in her whole diocese as I had in my parish in Virginia.) She completely embraces the theology of feminism and “inclusion.” She has made it very clear that she is committed to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in every dimension of the church’s ministry. She has permitted the blessing of same-sex unions in Nevada.
We have a compilation some of her more provocative statements, and a copy of her sermon from last Sunday available for you on the back tables.
Bishop Schori’s election came as a great surprise to nearly everyone, and already one of the three dioceses that still do not ordain women has applied to the Archbishop of Canterbury for “alternative primatial oversight.”
Only three out of 38 Provinces in the Anglican Communion have women Bishops, so her election will be an uncomfortable reality for some of the other Primates to deal with.
I wish her well in a very difficult job at a very difficult moment in our history.
I told you, at our Convention last January, that we are dangerously close to division in the Anglican Communion, and I said, “If division comes I will resist it with all of my energy. I hate the very thought of it. But if division is forced upon us, it is forced upon us.”
My sense is that we are closer to it now than we were two weeks ago. I have said this to you twice previously, but let me reiterate: if we must choose between being Episcopalian and being Anglican, I will choose Anglican.